Abandoned trolley problem troubles council

Key points:

  • WA councils would like stronger state laws to allow them to tackle abandoned trolleys
  • Supermarkets say they are implementing measures to address trolleys taken from stores
  • Fines appear to have limited affect on addressing the problem

A Perth council that has more than 100 abandoned shopping trolleys at its operations centre says it needs stronger laws to help deal with the problem.

City of Cockburn’s head of community safety and ranger services, Mike Emery, said the council regularly fielded complaints from residents about stray shopping trolleys.

“They’ve been used by nearby residents of shopping centres to take groceries home, and they’re not taken back to the shopping centre,” Mr Emery said.

“And the failing here is really the shopping centres and grocery stores not collecting the trolleys in an appropriate amount of time.

“Then the city is left with a lot of complaints from residents, which is a concern.”

Ready for collection

When the council brings the trolleys back to its depot, staff contact the stores and ask them to come and collect the trolleys within 60 days.

The council also charges the stores a fine, which was recently raised from $25 to $100 per trolley.

“To date no store has come and collected the trolleys,” Mr Emery said.

“All these trolleys will end up in a scrap yard if not picked up, which is not only environmental waste, but it’s not a good example of supermarkets being a good corporate citizen.”

He said the council was baffled by the lack of action.

“Obviously shopping trolleys are quite expensive,” he said.

More than 100 trolleys have been collected by the City of Cockburn.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

In a statement a Coles spokesperson said the supermarket provided trolleys to its customers for their convenience and spent a significant amount on maintaining them each year

The spokesperson said some of that cost included collecting trolleys.

“Abandoned trolleys are a nuisance to local communities and we are actively working to make this better, including regular collections of abandoned trolleys and installing wheel lock systems where suitable,” the spokesperson said.

A Woolworths spokesperson said the company planned to follow up on the collection of trolleys from Cockburn council and said it also employed contractors to respond to reports of abandoned trolleys.

“They also conduct regular sweeps for abandoned trolleys in the streets surrounding our stores,” the Woolworths spokesperson said.

Farmer Jacks did not respond to the ABC’s request for comment.

Trolleys advertise a number to call for stores to collect.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

Trolley problem ‘not acceptable’

Supermarkets have their own abandoned trolley reporting systems and advertise a phone number on trolley handles for the public to call if they find one.

But Spearwood resident John Cunai told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth it was not enough and had started a petition calling for a state parliamentary inquiry into trolley management.

He said he was “enraged to say the least” by the regular sight of trolleys on the streets and that ratepayers’ money was being spent on collecting them.

“There comes a time where we got to stop shrugging our shoulders and say ‘this is just not acceptable’,” Mr Cunai said.

“These retailers have to own up to the to the responsibility that these trolleys belong to them, it’s their property.

“And the outlets are failing to notify the consumer that the user is actually doing an act of littering and stealing.”

Mr Cunai said he wanted to see stringent and uniform laws in Western Australia that gave councils more power to make rules around trolleys, modelled on laws in Queensland.

Shopping trolleys wait to be collected from the Cockburn council operations centre.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

Many Queensland councils have local laws mandating that shops use coin activation on trolleys or have wheel locking systems that prevent trolleys being removed.

Some councils also have the power to fine people who take trolleys — in Ipswich the fine is $260.

Coin locking has impact

Brisbane City Council, the largest local government in Australia, reports it has no impounded trolleys at present.

Mr Emery said coin locking seemed to be the most effective way of keeping trolleys contained.

There are no trolleys collected by the council from the German retailer Aldi, whose trolleys are locked together with a mechanism that can only be released using a gold coin or token, which the user only gets back when they return the trolley.

Shopping trolleys with coin locking systems do prevent trolley theft, councils say.(Wikimedia Commons: Fredrich Rubensson)

Queensland University of Technology retail researcher Gary Mortimer said trolleys were a perennial problem and supermarkets faced tricky choices about annoying their customers over the behaviour of a few.

“We have to bear in mind that we’re dealing with a very small segment of shoppers who ignore the warnings and make a conscious decision to utilise the retailer’s shopping trolley for their own personal use,” Professor Mortimer said.

“As customers we do expect to walk in, whether it’s the discount department store or a supermarket, and have a trolley readily available for free use for us.”

Fines ‘likely ineffective’

Professor Mortimer said Coles was trialling a digital coin operated locking system to be more useful in an increasingly cashless society.

He also said it was hard to find evidence Queensland’s more stringent laws that allowed for people to be fined were effective.

“I wanted to look at this, and for the life of me, I cannot find any data on the proportion of people that have actually been fined despite the provision being available,” he said.

“I suspect that nobody’s ever been fined for removing a shopping trolley and using it for their own personal use.”

The council says it fields regular complaints about abandoned trolleys.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

He was also not convinced councils charging retailers for the trolleys they collected was likely to be effective.

“Ultimately the retailer will say, I’m not going to pay the $100, I’ll just buy another shopping trolley,” he said.

But ultimately, he said there was no complete solution in sight.

“I’ve been in retail for 20 odd years before I moved into academia and for the last 30 years, the abandoned shopping trolley conundrum has always been a problem,” he said.


Extracted from ABC

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